International Player Pathway Program Preseason Roundup: Who’ll make a roster?

The NFL preseason is a time for young players to prove their worth and with new rules allowing teams to elevate players from the International Player Pathway Program to the active roster, it’s never been more important for international athletes.

There are 14 current and former IPP athletes vying for jobs in NFL training camp this year, representing eight different countries with flags on the back of their helmets. Week 1 of the preseason gave us our first look at the opportunities these players might receive in 2021, with some locked into active roster roles and others bound for more practice roster seasoning.

Here’s a look at how all 14 players fare last week, listed in order of the players who played the most at their projected position to those who played the least.

Isaac Alarcon, LG, Dallas Cowboys (Mexico)

Isaac Alarcon, Dallas Cowboys Photo: Cowboys

Alarcon leads the way among IPP products so far this preseason because he is the lone international that has played two preseason games. Dallas opened the NFL calendar with the Hall of Fame game a week ago and Alarcon played a whopping 43 offensive snaps in that game. He backed it up with 34 more reps in Dallas’ loss to Arizona, meaning he’s taken the fifth-most snaps on the Cowboys’ offense through two weeks.

During that span, Alarcon has allowed just three pressures as a pass protector and made some nice blocks in the run game, though his learning curve remains incredibly steep. After a year on the practice roster, the Cowboys appear to be giving Alarcon every chance at live game action to improve his development.

Efe Obada, DE, Buffalo Bills (United Kingdom)

Efe Obada in preseason action against Detroit Lions Photo: Buffalo Bills

One international player you can virtually guarantee will be on an NFL roster this year is Efe Obada. The former London Warrior had 5.5 sacks last year for the Carolina Panthers, before signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Buffalo.

Obada saw plenty of action in Buffalo’s one-point win against Detroit last Friday, taking the field for 42 defensive snaps. He finished with two tackles and a quarterback hit.

Sammis Reyes, TE, Washington Football Team (Chile)

The freakish former basketball player at Tulane University had all the hype this offseason and signed with Washington as an undrafted free agent after a sensational IPP Pro Day. That means Reyes has to make a roster this year entirely on his own merits, with no practice roster exemption to fall back on.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass-catcher took a good first step towards that goal against New England. He saw 33 offensive snaps, recording two receptions for 25 yards and grading out as one of Washington’s best run blockers according to Pro Football Focus.

Jakob Johnson, FB, New England Patriots (Germany)

Jakob Johnson catching a pass against Seattle Seahawks Photo: Elaine Thompson

On the opposing offense, one of the IPP’s biggest successes looks ready to claim New England’s fullback role for another season. Jakob Johnson broke out in 2020 and will continue to play the important position in the Patriots’ offense.

The former Stuttgart Scorpion played 17 snaps in the first preseason game, not far off his regular-season average, and managed a five-yard catch in addition to his blocking assignments.

David Bada, DT, Washington Football Team (Germany)

David Bada celebrates during Washington’s preseason game with the Patriots. Photo: Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team

Making it an impressive three IPP alumni impacting one game, former Schwabisch Hall Unicorn David Bada was also on the field last Thursday and saw 16 snaps of action at defensive tackle.

Bada made the most of that time, notching two tackles and splitting a double team to share a sack with teammate Bunmi Rotimi. It’s clear that spending 2020 on the practice roster has more than prepared the German for live NFL action.

Sandro Platzgummer, RB, New York Giants (Austria)

Sandro Platzgummer after 48 yard run versus NY Jets Photo: Reuters

Sandro Platzgummer didn’t see as much action as some of the other IPP players that played this week, but the former Swarco Raider is probably the one you heard about thanks to a highlight reel 48-yard run that had his teammates celebrating on the sideline.

Thanks to that run, the Austrian finished the game as the Giants leading rusher against the New York Jets, despite playing just 11 snaps. He carried four times total for 51 yards.

Aaron Donkor, LB, Seattle Seahawks (Germany)

Aaron Donkor at Seattle Seahawks’ training facility in Renton, Wash. Photo: Elaine Thompson The Associated Press

The most active among the four new IPP players in the NFC West, former Arkansas State edge rusher Aaron Donkor saw 1o snaps on defense the Las Vegas Raiders. While mostly repping against the run didn’t play to Donkor’s strengths, he still managed to record two tackles.

While unlikely to make a case for a defensive role, Donkor is quite the special teams athlete and looked good in 17 snaps of action in the game’s third phase, getting in on another tackle on kick coverage.

Jordan Mailata, LT, Philadelphia Eagles (Australia)

Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack AP.

Still the only player drafted out of the IPP program, Mailata didn’t have much to worry about in Week 1 of the pre-season. The former rugby highlight machine emerged for the Eagles in 2020 and is expected to battle with Andre Dillard for the starting left tackle job, but his competition is currently out with a knee injury.

In Dillard’s absence, Mailata was treated like the rest of Philly’s veteran starters. He took 10 snaps to start the game and then rested the majority of the night.

Bernhard Seikovits, TE, Arizona Cardinals (Austria)

(APA) Photo: Imago

Already a fan favorite in Arizona, former Vienna Vikings tight end Bernhard Seikovits got just a taste of NFL action against the Cowboys, taking four snaps on offense. The Austrian was much more active on special teams, getting 12 reps spread across a variety of units.

Alfredo Gutierriez, OT, San Francisco 49ers (Mexico)

Kyle Shanahan got Alfredo Gutierriez some buzz this week when he called the Mexican lineman a “baller” in a post-practice press conference, but San Francisco is bringing their new international project along slowly and he didn’t play in Week 1.

Durval Queiroz Neto, OG, Miami Dolphins (Brazil)

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Durval Queiroz Neto

Making the transition from defensive tackle to offensive guard in his third season with the Dolphins, Queiroz Neto watched from the sidelines against the Bears and is expected to see his first action next week.

Matt Leo, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (Australia)

Photo: Philidelphia Eagles

One of the top candidates to push for an active roster role in his second IPP season, Matt Leo started training camp on the COVID-19 list and was only active three days prior to their first preseason game, resulting in him not playing.

Max Pircher, OT, Los Angeles Rams (Italy)

Photo: LA Rams

In need of some development, the Rams didn’t throw their new Italian into the fire and opted not to play him Week 1. The former Swarco Raider should see some action in the coming week.

Christian Wade, RB, Buffalo Bills (United Kingdom)

Many hoped the new IPP rules might give a player like Christian Wade a shot at the active roster in the final season of his international exemption, but that may have to wait. The British rugby player has his arm in a sling thanks to an injured shoulder and wasn’t able to dress against Detroit.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.